Plaster of Paris; chapter five, part one

“I see,” she says at last, picking up her fork again.  “Perhaps you have a problem with me yourself?”  She doesn’t look at Lyle, but concentrates on her food.

“I’m just having a hard time believing it’s a coincidence that Paris gets hurt immediately after you show up in his life.”  Lyle has his arms folded across his chest and is glowering at Ursula.  I cannot reconcile this sullen, angry man with the easygoing, laidback Lyle that I have come to know.

“Are you accusing me of hurting my own son?”  Ursula sets down her fork again, the better to glare at Lyle.  I barely restrain a sigh of impatience.  There is enough tension between Mrs. Jenson and Lyle without adding this complication to the situation.

“I’m not accusing you of anything.”  Despite the soothing words, Lyle’s countenance becomes even more grave.  “I’d just like to know why you chose yesterday to contact Paris.”  Although I would have phrased it differently, I’d like to know the answer to that question as well.  Ursula sits up straight in her chair, losing her insouciance.  She places her napkin carefully by the side of her plate.

“Giving up the t—Paris was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.  My parents told me in no uncertain terms that I would be out of their house if I kept a child out of wedlock.  I cried for the last month of my pregnancy.  Jersey?  Horrid.  The trip to Tijuana?  I don’t even remember it.”  She pauses to take a sip of water.  “Paris was the sweetest, most perfect baby ever.  Oh sure, I know all mothers think that but in this case, it’s true.  He didn’t cry and when he smiled, I just melted.  When the lawyer took him from my arms for the last time, I felt as if my soul was ripped from my body.  I had to bite my tongue until it bled so I wouldn’t beg for him back.”  Ursula laughs a shade bitterly, bemused by her own stupidity.  “I saw him everywhere I went.  Of course, I didn’t know his name was Paris.  I only knew he was adopted by a healthy Caucasian couple.  Back in those days, they didn’t tell you anything!  I got on with my life as best I could, but still thought of—him every day.  Five years ago, I had a little cancer scare and realized life is short.  It was time to reconnect with my past.  I hired a private investigator.”

“It took the P.I. five years to find Paris?”  Lyle interrupts, his forehead furrowed.  “He must not have been very good.”

“She was fine,” Ursula says pointedly before relaxing again.  She waves off the server who is hovering behind her.  “It’s just, my second husband served me with divorce papers around that time, leaving me for his secretary.  What a cliché!  That’s when Lois started acting out.  One day, she’s a sweet, tiny thing—the next, she’s this big, blond monster.  She shot up over night!  We moved to San Francisco for the proverbial new start.”  She reflects for a minute, her eyes hooded.  They clear as she continues.  “If it weren’t for the support of a very dear friend, I never would have made it through.  Those were some desperate days before my breakout book.  ”  She made twenty-five million in three years?  That’s simply amazing—unless she had money to begin with.

“Still, five years?”  Lyle protests.  “I’m surprised it took that long.”

I don’t say anything as I digest what I’ve heard.  I want to believe her not only because I like her, but because she’s Paris’s birthmother.  However, there is so much about her that has been left unsaid.  She is glibly explaining why it took five years to find Paris.  She didn’t know his name at all, which was a big stumbling block.  By the time she started her search, Mr. Frantz was dead and Paris’s mother had remarried which made the trail doubly hard to follow.  There were other things she had to deal with in the meantime.  I am eager to hear what exactly those other things are, but Ursula declines to talk about them.  She also declines to talk more about Paris’s father, saying she doesn’t even know his full name.  Seeing the skeptical look on our faces, she hastens to explain that he just told her to call him Benny.  She hasn’t seen either him or his sister since high school, and that was almost thirty years ago.  I can’t really fault her for that as I have a porous memory myself.

Lyle demands to know how Ursula’s current husband feels about Paris.  His tone is bordering on obnoxious.  Ursula hesitates, not answering.  Lyle persists remorselessly.  I definitely have to get the 411 later on why he is being such a pain in the ass.  When Ursula does answer, she equivocates by saying that her husband is happy for her, but thinks it’d be more prudent if she waited before settling money on him.  However, Ursula is so overjoyed about finding Paris, she wants to give him a gift right away.  She didn’t get a chance to tell Paris about the money because she had decided to set up the trust after she talked to him.  She was going to tell him when they first met.  Ursula dabs at the corners of her eyes with her napkin before continuing eating.  She has a healthy appetite despite her distress, unlike me and Lyle.  Neither of us have eaten more than a few bites.  I feel as if we’re playing good cop/bad cop with Ursula, which is not a pleasant feeling.

“I think we should be heading back to the hospital, Rayne,” Lyle says abruptly, taking me by surprise.

“I agree,” I say, rooting through my purse.

“Oh, please, it’s on me.”  Ursula holds up a well-manicured hand, adamantly refusing to allow us to chip in.  “It’s the least I can do for Paris’s friends.”  The animation seeps out of her face, making her appear her age.  “Do you think I can see Paris at all?  I was so looking forward to meeting him.”

“We’ll have to let you know,” I say, after Lyle and I confer glances.  I give her my numbers and my work email.  We promise to call her if anything changes before we are able to extricate ourselves from the situation.  We leave her staring wistfully after us.  I’m left with the nagging feeling that I should have asked her something else, but I can’t place what it is.  Once we are outside, I pounce on Lyle, giving him holy hell for being such a drama queen.

He says nothing, but continues walking towards his truck.  I won’t let up, so he finally admits that he doesn’t trust Ursula further than he can throw her.  His face turns red, and his eyes are snapping as he talks about her.  He thinks she acts all sweetness and light as if butter couldn’t melt in her mouth; he also thinks her story doesn’t add up.  When I press him to be more specific, he counts off the items on his fingers.  One, not remembering the name of the father.  Two, taking five years to track Paris down.  Three, the way she guessed about when the hit-and-run occurred.  He has his hands on his hips and is glaring at me.  For a minute, he’s so reminiscent of Paris that I get a pain in my gut.  I shake it off as I listen to him rail.  He thinks she’s hiding something, and he would dearly love to know what it is.

I think he’s overreacting, which I tell him gently.  I don’t want to set him off even more, but I don’t want him shooting off on a tangent, either.  He takes exception to what I’m saying and starts striding again.  I keep quiet as he rants about how her stories all sound rehearsed, as if she’s told them a million times.  Everything is prepackaged and canned.  I point out that she’s a writer which means she probably can’t help relating the stories with dramatic flair.  Lyle just sniffs at me, not convinced that there isn’t a more sinister explanation.  Secretly I wonder if perhaps Lyle is mad at Ursula on Paris’s behalf for giving him up for adoption so many years ago, but I’m wise enough not to proffer that hypothesis while Lyle is in this rotten of a mood.  I try to change the subject by suggesting that we stop at Lyle’s place so he can shower and change.  That triggers the thought that Ursula never asked in which hospital Paris is staying, which Lyle takes as yet another sign that she knows more than she’s saying.  I pay him no mind as we reach his truck.

Lyle won’t let it drop, however.  He’s convinced that Ursula knows where Paris is and what’s more, that she knew about the accident before I told her about it.  As for the former, I can’t see why that would matter especially as St. Luke’s is the logical choice in the Mission District.  Besides, why would she call him, tell him she’s his mother, then run him over a few hours later?  That makes no sense at all.  As for the latter, I could swear she had been surprised when I told her about Paris’s accident, but I don’t know her well enough to say with any confidence that she wasn’t faking it.  I still think Lyle has a bee in his bonnet about Ursula for whatever reason and is reaching to find a link between her and the accident.  His jaw is set, however, so I decline to argue with him about it any more.  By this time, we have reached the truck and are jockeying for position.

Over his protests, I wrest the keys from him and climb into the driver’s side of the truck.  I head for his apartment, ignoring his rumblings the entire way.  I order him to take a shower and change, which, thankfully, he does.  I also command that he take a nap, but he won’t obey that order.  After a brief, but heated argument on said subject, we return to the hospital.  I have barely parked the truck and given the keys to Lyle before he is off and running.  I walk at a more sedate pace because I am in no hurry to face the drama that awaits.  By the time I reach the ICU, Lyle is already arguing with Mrs. Jenson.  I contemplate turning around and walking away before anyone can spot me, but that would be cowardly.  Besides, my poor mother is trapped, literally, between the two combatants and if I don’t save her, no one will.  I hustle into the fray and begin separating the two of them.  Neither wants to give an inch, but I eventually establish some calm.

“What the hell is going on?”  I ask, glaring at Lyle.  My mother limply slides into the nearest chair, pressing the back of her right hand to her forehead.

“She laid into me the minute I walked in,” Lyle says through gritted teeth.  I can tell he dearly wants to call her a few choice names and hope that he can restrain himself.  “Says I better have not told ‘that slut’ anything about Paris.”  In other words, it got ugly up in here.  While I expected nothing less, I was hoping for more.

“She has no right,” Mrs. Jenson says shakily, her body trembling.  My mother pulls her down into the chair next to her.  “She signed papers when we adopted Paris.  That was part of the deal—that she would never seek him out.  She didn’t even know our names.”  It’s clear that even twenty-eight years later, Mrs. Jenson is still worried about Paris being taken away from her.  “And you!  You had no right to call her.”  She freezes both Lyle and me with an icy glare.  I feel like a schoolgirl standing before the principal.

I try to defend my action by pointing out that we’re trying to find a would-be killer with Ursula being a good lead.  A tactical error that, calling her by her first name.  Mrs. Jenson winces at the palpable hit.  She rallies to ask what ‘the slut’ wanted from him, other than to ruin his life.  Her sarcasm cannot quite cover up the fear lacing her words.  I try to soothe her by saying that Ursula just wants to meet Paris, omitting the part about the trust.  If Mrs. Jenson is agitated now, she’ll hit the ceiling if Ursula’s plan is divulged to her.  My attempts to soften her don’t work, and she is adamant that Ursula not come anywhere near Paris.  In fact, she threatens to have her lawyer to have a little chat with Ursula.

I sigh and massage my forehead.  I haven’t had much sleep so my brain isn’t functioning very well, but I need to make Mrs. Jenson see that she’s making a mistake.  Paris is not in good shape, and he needs all the support he can get.  I try to articulate how excited he was to meet his birthmother and how it might give him something to live for.  At the look on Mrs. Jenson’s face, I regret that I couldn’t phrase that more delicately, but I don’t regret the sentiment.  This is not the time for pride and jealousy and petty fears.  It’s time to think of Paris first and to shove aside all other concerns.  Whatever it takes to keep my boy with us, that’s what I say.  I watch Mrs. Jenson’s face to see if she’s acquiescing, but I can’t tell.

She murmurs something about missing her church right now, especially Reverend Jackson.  I offer to find a local church, but Mrs. Jenson’s headshaking cuts me off.  She thinks the local churches are all too lax and would rather not attend at all than be uncomfortable.  My mother suggests that she return to her hotel to take a nap.  Mrs. Jenson latches onto the suggestion, adding that my mother should be grateful that she’s never had to deal with almost losing a child.  My mother, who has dealt with a similar situation, remains silent.  As good as she is in doling out comfort, she’s equally uncomfortable with receiving it.  Besides, my mother intuits that there would be no purpose in telling Mrs. Jenson her tale of woe as Mrs. Jenson would surely point out that I’m alive and well while Paris is tethered to machines that he needs in order to breathe—not to mention Mary, who is dead.

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